One of the constant struggles -- and I use the word "struggle" extremely lightly -- with caring deeply about sports, and writing about sports, is balancing logic with emotion. If you value something, you want to learn as much as you can about it, and with learning comes perspective and understanding. If you don't understand basic analytic principles, for example, you are willfully putting your head in the sand involving new information about an activity that you claim to love unconditionally, which makes me wonder just how much you care at all. One wants to apply logic to your love of sports because otherwise you're just dumbly screaming into the air about something you have actively chosen not to completely understand. You need to know what you're talking about.
On the other hand: Sports are supposed to be about emotion. If you're not emotional about sports, what are you emotional about? Sports provide a harmless place to unleash emotions that are unacceptable in the organized, structured real world. You can carefully compose the most logical, rational argument about the random nature of competition, the machinations of roster construction and the variance of human performance, and it will mean zilch in the face of a man who has painted his face silver and is wearing skulls as shoulder pads. And honestly, why would you want to?
This brings us, once again, to Kevin Durant. Two days after his Big Decision of 2016, people are still mad. They're mad at the NBA, they're mad at the Warriors, they're mad at impulsive millennial players (???), but mostly, they're mad at Durant. This has cemented itself as the storyline of the upcoming 2016-17: Kevin Durant, joiner, coward, bad guy, weakling. After a more confrontationally-worded tweet than I intended linking to my column about this from Monday, I've been hearing from hundreds of these people. People think Durant has ruined the NBA, or ruined himself, or ruined something, and they're mad.
But, well … I'm sorry, but these people are still wrong. They are being driven by emotion rather than logic. At the risk of repeating the great work by Zach Lowe, Royce Young and Alex Wong, every excuse people use to be angry with Durant fails to stand up to reason.
A brief rundown:
This is proof that NBA doesn't have the parity that it used to. The NBA has never had parity. It has always been a star-driven league. Do you know how many franchises have won championships since 1980? Eleven. And four of those won only one. The Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Spurs, Rockets, Heat and Pistons have won 33 out of the last 37 last championships. You're worried about all 30 teams having a chance to win now?
The NBA used to be more competitive? Between 1980 & 2005 seven different teams won titles. Between 2006 & 2016 seven different teams won.- Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) July 6, 2016
There's no reason to watch the NBA now because we already know what will happen. This is the opposite of how sports work! A million things can do down. Have you forgotten about Stephen Curry's ankles? Or LeBron James? The whole point of watching sports is that anything that can happen, and does. Go back and look at any preseason prediction people made in any particular season. They're all wrong! We have no idea what is going to happen. This is why this is fun.
Watching a superteam is no fun. Are you kidding? Rooting against superteams -- against the best teams in the sport -- is so much fun. If anything, the Warriors the last two years have been the lone refutation of this, the one time the best team in the sport was often the fan favorite. (A designation that has now ended, obviously.) We are a nation that loves underdogs and upsets, and the only way you can have an underdog and an upset is if you have a favorite in the first place. Why do people hate Duke, or the Yankees, or the Cardinals, or the Patriots? Because -- among other reasons! -- they're almost always good. Beating them means something. Every greyhound needs an electric rabbit to chase.
The Warriors are now like the Yankees, winning championships because they can just get whomever they want. First off, this is not how the Yankees worked. (The Yanks won all their titles when they weren't buying every free agent available and instead focused on their farm system. The one exception to this is the 2009 season, a spending spree they're still recovering from today.) Second, this is not what the Warriors are doing either: They can't just go buy every player. The Warriors -- unlike the Yankees, who could outspend anyone -- don't have advantages that no other NBA team has. They have a salary cap just like everybody else does. Now, they may have done a better job of courting Durant than anyone else, of keeping cap space open for him and surrounding him with talent, but anyone could have done that. They're the ones who did. Also (and this sort of worth noting!): The Warriors aren't the defending champions! They didn't win the title last year! Did we all just forget this?
You can't compare the job athletes do with real-life jobs, and thus there are certain expectations they should adhere to. I heard this one a lot after my Monday column.
And sure: Athletes make more money in their jobs than most of us make in ours. (Though we get to work a lot longer in our jobs than they do in theirs.) But that doesn't make them, you know, less human. They get to pick and choose where they want to go to work, and how much they want to get paid, just like the rest of us do. If anything, they actually get to pick and choose not as often than we do. Now, we as fans might not like when athletes choose to play for teams we do not want them to play for. But we cannot deny that they have every right to pick the best life for themselves they can. Sort of weird this one requires much defending?
We killed LeBron James for doing this six years ago, so Durant deserves the same. We did hammer LeBron for The Decision, but pretending it was just because he left Cleveland for Miami is being purposefully dense. The problem wasn't the decision LeBron made; it was how he made it. On television, while selling flavored water, maximizing his Brand, shilling Trump Steaks. If LeBron had just announced the way Durant did, with a simple blog post or even a leak to a reporter, people would have been upset that he left Cleveland. But it wouldn't have been nearly as bad as it was. Even LeBron ultimately admitted the way he handled it was a mistake.
Durant himself criticized James for joining a superteam rather than trying to beat that team himself.
Now everybody wanna play for the heat and the Lakers? Let's go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!- Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) July 16, 2010
This is a fair point. But six years is a long time. Are you the same as you were six years ago?
Michael Jordan wouldn't have done that. There's nothing more exhausting than a "Jordan wouldn't have done that" argument, but: a) We don't actually know that (Jordan had the good fortune of having a fantastic team around him and never having to face LeBron), and b) players of Jordan's generation were constantly following talent around from team to team for rings, from Charles Barkley to Karl Malone to Gary Payton to Clyde Drexler to Scottie Pippen himself.
Reasonable people can reasonably disagree, but I'm not sure any of those reasons could stand up on a debate stage, or a court of law, or any sort of Socratic discussion of the facts at hand. The support for them is almost entirely, "But I don't want Durant on the Warriors!" [crosses arms petulantly]
But still ... maybe that's enough? I get it. I had a little bit of the instinctive awwww, come on when I learned Durant had signed with the Warriors myself. (Though I'll still argue that team is going to be a blast to watch.) If enough people decide that emotion trumps facts -- again, a totally fair thing to do -- you wonder if this will have longer-term ramifications, particularly with a league facing a potentially contentious labor negotiation. This is still a fan-driven league, after all, and if people collectively decide that they don't like the way it's playing out, they can vote with their feet. I suspect it'll all work out, that we'll look back and think maybe we all overreacted a little bit like we do with LeBron's Decision now, and that it'll be just fine. But that might be applying logic to a situation to which logic does not apply. Whether it's sports, or politics, or life, sometimes people just want to scream. At the end of the day, right or wrong, it does feel better. It can be wrong, but it can absolutely feel right.
(But seriously, it's totally wrong.)